Football itself ceded centre stage to Brazil's stadiums this week, as the Arena do Grêmio and the Mineirão hogged the headlines for all the wrong reasons...
Stadium woes (part one)
"But can we still do the avalanche?" This was the first question asked by most Grêmio fans when plans for their new stadium were unveiled in late 2009. Their (in)famous goal celebration – which involves members of the Geral supporters' group rushing to the front of the terrace as one – was deeply associated with the Estádio Olímpico, whose shallow stands lent themselves to the idea as well as any. To maintain the tradition, one terrace of the Arena do Grêmio – which opened this year – was designed with the 'avalanche' specifically in mind – despite reservations voiced by the local military police corps over the safety of the celebration.
Those fears came flooding back last week. The safety barrier at the bottom of the stand dedicated to the 'avalanche' gave way as fans celebrated Grêmio's goal against LDU, leaving eight people requiring medical attention. Thankfully none were seriously injured, but in a state still in shock following the tragic events in Santa Maria, a hard truth seems to have hit home: tradition it may be, but a crowd of thousands piling down steps towards a barrier (sturdy or otherwise) is simply not safe. With local authorities and Conmebol investigating the incident, the addition of seats in the area is likely.
Miralles finds his feet at Santos
One of a number of Argentines to have come to prominence in Chilean football (see also: Darío Conca, Walter Montillo, Darío Bottinelli), Ezequiel Miralles made an inauspicious start to life in Brazil, making just nine Brasileirão starts for Grêmio before being shipped off to Santos in the deal that took Elano to Porto Alegre.
There are signs, however, that he could be ready to make a bigger impact in 2013. Miralles looked sharp in the seasiders' 3-1 derby win against São Paulo, scoring twice and linking up well with both Neymar and fellow hermano Montillo. With his waspish movement, the 29-year-old certainly provides a more subtle threat than André, his main competitor for a starting role. Much will depend on whether he can be similarly ruthless in front of goal, but Sunday's performance bodes well.
Stadium woes (part two)
After over a thousand days of restoration work, the Mineirão in Belo Horizonte was reopened by Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff in December. The new-look stadium was used for the first time this weekend, with the clássico between Cruzeiro and Atlético-MG expected to be a celebratory affair.
But the football itself was overshadowed by a host of problems reported by fans. The more serious allegations – a lack of drinking water (in water fountains and subsequently even from taps), understaffed bars which then closed due to overcrowding, no toilet paper in bathrooms – provide significant cause for concern. The distress evident on the face of one man caught on camera, desperate for water to give to his son, was particularly troubling.
"The idea that these are just little teething troubles doesn't cut it," seethed Estadão's Antero Greco. "Fans were treated with disrespect – like they were litter. And they have the cheek to put up banners that say things like 'Enjoy the party!' It's lamentable."
Home sweet... oh
Paulo Henrique Ganso played against Santos for the first time since his acrimonious departure last year. To celebrate the occasion, the Peixe fans printed fake bank notes with his name and face on them, threw coins and even made a Ganso 'Judas doll' (don't ask) to punch, scratch and curse. At least somebody was a little more forgiving.
Like a duck to water
It's fair to say that Alexandre Pato knows how to make a good impression. (Insert Barbara Berlusconi joke here, if you're so inclined.) It took the striker just three minutes – and three touches – to open his account for Corinthians after coming off the bench against Oeste. Incredibly, he has now scored on début for every team he had represented at senior level, having made similarly positive first impressions for Internacional, Milan and the seleção. Whether he can maintain the early momentum, of course, will depend largely on his fitness – as both he and the Timão medical department will well know.
A version of this article was published by The Guardian here.